[Whelp. I wrote this whole thing out last night because I wasn't smart enough to check the spreadsheet first and see that keylimekai was already set to post a fantastic game wrap here. So we'll do a Verizon rollover and call this Monday's open thread....wrap....yeah.....]
Andrei Kirilenko picked the perfect game to come back for.
Though his minutes were limited, the Russian Rifle more or less saved the Wolves not once, not twice, but three times in the last 15 seconds of this tilt. (with a little help from Rubio)
Down 91-95 with a minute left, Rubio shook Sideshow Bob out of his sneakers splitting a pick, and made an and-1 layup. Then Pekovic collected and offensive board and got two free throws for the effort (oh, so they do call fouls for that....who knew? Clearly not the refs Pek is used to...)
Then Kirilenko checked in (thankfully) and promptly blocked Eric Gordon's potential game-winning layup. Then Kirilenko drew a foul and got one of his free throws, which forced the Hornicans to decide they needed a three. Then Kirilenko blocked that as well. It was the perfect end to a game that was basically bits and pieces of random amazingness that had the TC crowd all
And we actually came away with the win this time. Wheeee.
So it turns out that even part-time from the full-time guys (Pek, AK) is better than full-time from the part-time guys (Steamer...) The Hornets aren't a great team by any means. They're young, inexperienced, and their (theoretically) best player has been hurt too much for any chemistry to form. But they're no pushovers. They're athletic and smart, runs a smart system, and have a smart coach. This isn't 20 minutes of Ginobili and the Spurs' practice squad. You have to be something to beat the Pelicanets, and tonight the Wolves were something.
Derrick Williams played perhaps the best game of his NBA career to date (the other candidate perhaps being his 9-10 tilt against the Clippers last year) He was smooth and non-hesitant, and played like he understood what was being thrown at him. He didn't back down from Anthony Davis (who is definitely for real) and pressed his advantage over Ryan Anderson and Lou. He doesn't box out like he should and got vexed late when Monty Williams switch Farouq-Aminu onto him, but by then, he had done his damage. 28 points (new career high), 7 rebounds, 3-5 from distance.
It was finally some real help for Rubio (who was no slouch tonight either), which this team has not really had over the last 2-3 weeks. With the pressure to generate offense every single possession lifted, Rubio was able to pick his spots better (though that 3 was not a good shot in real time...) and dedicate himself to being a defensive pest: 2 steals, 2 blocks, and a very frustrated General Grevious Vasquez (24 points on 25 shots, 6 turnovers) who, by the fourth quarter, played like Rubio had Mace Windu'd the offense out of him.
Health has obviously been the downfall of this season, and the Wolves has nothing left to play for (except a draft pick.....which the Wolves just undermined their chances with.....just sayin'....) But you have to admire their willingness to go out and fight every night. It's not just Rubio. Williams is determined to use this time to get better. Chris Johnson wants to prove he belongs. Dante Cunningham wouldn't surrender even if he played MJ's Bulls every night for two months straight. It's a very different spirit than the Rambangles, even if the record is more or less the same. That's something, at least. In his post-game interview, Rubio specifically thanked the fans for showing up every night even though he "knows it's hard when we keep losing. But we play hard and fight every night."
- Williams is slowly but steadily fixing his windup problem. He still has times when a slow first step turns an easy dunk into a contested layup or things like that. But it's getting better. BUT. The lesson learned here is he's not a small forward, which is still going to be a problem.
- I'm at a loss as to why Chris Johnson doesn't play. I've looked at every angle I can think of and every situation that could come into play, and I've got nothing. The guy makes his shots, gets to the line, plays defense, beats everyone down the floor in both directions...
- ...and scores easy points, which is still a major, major problem the Wolves have. Getting buckets is still this massive struggle on a per-possession basis (compare this to the Hornets tonight, who got at least a dozen easy, easy points off simple Davis/Lopez pick-and-rolls) The only thing I could maybe see is Adelman doesn't think he's a good enough rebounder. But tonight I only saw two rebounds fall in Johnson's area; on one, Davis simply jumped higher (that'll happen a lot with AD) and the other Davis fell and inadvertantly swept CJ's feet out from under him). And it's not like Steamer is Dennis Rodman....so....I dunno.....but with all the injuries and whatnot, there's no reason Johnson shouldn't see 15-20 minutes of burn a night.
- Anthony Davis is legit, 100%. I honestly think he's going to make the whole Kevin Love/Blake Griffin debate moot in 3 years. His numbers are on a Tim Duncan pace, he shows all the classic signs of success (pick-and-roll, motor, rebounding out of his area) and he does things you just can't teach. Tonight he caught an inbound pass and realized Vasquez was crowding him too much to make a clean pass. But instead of trying to force a play or yell at the good General to move, he simply dribbled two steps to his left to draw the defense away and clear a passing lane. That's the kind of 'getting it' that makes the best players the best players.
- Speaking of Timmy, he's been playing some awful good ball for an 80 year old. 30 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 blocks last night. And paired with Ginobili showing those sad Americans what a true Euro-step looks like:
(And also pulled off this craziness)
57th, people. That guy was drafted 57th overall.
ANYWHOO. Let us take this moment to mourn the untimely end of the Clone Wars CG series. And just when it was getting good....
Gah. It's Spectacular Spiderman all over again....